Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 7, No. 1, 1993
Edited by Brian Shoesmith & Ian Angus

How Australians were made airminded

Leigh Edmonds

Aviation is a technology which, like all other technologies, has been socially constructed. Its progress in a country like Australia has been made possible through changes made to Australian society so that it would accept and encourage aviation. Progress has not simply been the result of technical innovation.

In this article I will outline the way in which Australian society has been shaped to accept aviation. I will suggest that there has been nothing natural about this process and that the development of an airminded society in Australia was fostered by interests which primarily wanted to profit from a public acceptance of the new technology of aviation, either financially or in other ways such as public acclaim or job satisfaction.

I particularly focus on the development of airmindedness in Australia because the spread of that idea shows us how public attitudes towards aviation developed something which the recital of the number of passengers or weight of freight carried cannot do. Those factors measure actual use but cannot answer questions about why that use was taking place or how attitudes were being formed to encourage that use.

"Airmindedness" is not a word found in every day speech today. It may never have been common but there was a period during the late 1930s when most Australians had some idea of its meaning. The people who founded aviation in Australia did not use the word when they started on their project to popularise aviation. At first they used other phrases to say what they had in mind. One of aviation's first supporters in Australia, Prime Minister W.M. Hughes, called himself "a fanatic in my belief in aviation". 1 Charles Ulm said that his flights with Kingsford Smith were the way in which "an aviation sense can best be roused in Australia". 2 Another pioneer, H.C. Ittershagen, said that he hoped to be successful in "opening the minds of the people of Western Australia to the vast possibilities of air transport". 3

Over time words came into use to express the idea which the aviation pioneers had. They included "flying spirit", "air sense" and "air-spirit" as well as "airmindedness". 4 However "airmindedness" was the most popular of these words and the one to become most widely used.

The word "air-minded" seems first to have been used in Australia in June 1926, in an article copied from the British aviation journal The Aeroplane into its Australian counterpart Aircraft. C.G. Grey, the editor of The Aeroplane, wrote: "And that is the kind of propaganda that we want to-day, to educate the public, and make them air-minded". 5 This new coining did not spark instant imitation because the next use of the word I have found was in May 1930 when the West Australian reported a local pilot who remarked on "The 'airmindedness' of the West Australians...". 6 The word was enclosed in quotation marks, suggesting that it was considered unusual at the time. However, in 1939 a cat was found in the wing of an aeroplane after a flight and the press called it "an airminded cat". 7 This light-hearted use of the word suggests that between 1930 and 1939 it had become familiar to most people in Australia even if they did not used it themselves in every day conversation.

"Airmindedness" is a state of mind. The people who founded aviation in Australia thought of it as a condition in the public consciousness which would encourage people to use aviation; to travel in aeroplanes and to send their mail and their freight by air. An airminded society would be one which supported aviation, could appreciate its advantages and understood that prosperity and development lay in using the air. One of Australia's first airlines, Qantas put this attitude simply with a motto, "The future is in the air". 8

Later on, airmindedness became something else. It became a way of thinking about the world which included the use of air transport and the threat of air power as every-day realities. It was not a simple enthusiasm for or an appreciation of aviation which the founders had sought, it was the unthinking use of aviation as a tool in the same way that other technologies are tools for shaping or relating to the physical world. If Australians now have trouble in recognising this attitude as something unusual it is because their society has become so thoroughly airminded that they find it difficult to think in any other way. When civil aviation started in Australia in 1919 Nobody was airminded in this way.

Aviation only exists to serve social needs. "The only reason we operate aeroplanes is because we carry a payload," was the commercial explanation given by an airline executive in 1929. 9 The availability of a machine to perform particular tasks may depend on its invention and development, but machines will only become commonplace if people see some advantage in using them. In addition, development of machines will only take place if there is encouragement to go to the trouble.

The way in which a technology develops depends on the values and priorities of the social, political and economic environment in which it exists. The Australian aero club movement, for example, did not happen by accident. It was created as the result of a deliberate government policy, taken in the mid 1920s, to subsidise its development, partly because of an Australian inclination to do what Britain did but also to provide the country with a pool of trained pilots who might serve in the defence forces if necessary. 10 In 1934 and 1938 Australia's airline networks were completely revamped and new aeroplanes introduced to them. This did not happen because the equipment for such a service became available but because the Australian government became involved in British plans to develop empire-wide air mail services. 11 In fact, the key aeroplanes used on the principal air routes, the deHavilland 86 and the Short C Class flying boat, were developed specifically for those services. 12

From our perspective near the end of the Twentieth Century it seems inevitable that the technology of aviation would be successful and take the form that it now has. This outcome was not obvious, however, to those who helped establish aviation. These people lived in a world which knew virtually nothing about what aviation could do or the conditions necessary for its successful establishment. In Australia there was often government and business apathy and, on occasions, direct opposition from well established concerns such as the government railways. 13 In late 1931 Aircraft proclaimed:

The time is coming when Aviation in Australia will have to fight for its life. There are misguided interests which do not like aeroplanes. There have been indications in the past few weeks that in some quarters there is a keen desire to scrap the airways so that our grandchildren will be forced to the unutterable weariness of travelling everywhere by train. 14

We now know that the railways did not stop commercial aviation in Australia but we know little about the ways in which aviation fought that threat. The promotion of airmindedness was part of the fight, so part of the way in which Australians now think about aviation was shaped by reactions to a threat which occurred about sixty years ago. It as though there is a primary effect which is known (the popularity of air travel and the decline of long distance passenger rail travel) and a secondary effect (the everyday and almost unthinking acceptance of aviation as part of the fabric of modern Australian life).

The creation of an airminded society was not an end in itself but a means to an end. A few young men returned to Australia after the First World War with an enthusiasm for flying and a hope that they could continue with it. However, they needed to find a way to support their habit. Some were lucky enough to find positions in the Royal Australian Air Force which was being set up at the time but the rest had to survive in the civilian world. 15 The obvious thing to do was create public interest in aviation so that people would use it and pay for it. To do this it had to fulfil three main conditions; it had to be safe, it had to serve a useful purpose and people had to know about it. Of these three the most important aspect was publicity, but it had to make people think about safety and usefulness when they thought about aviation.

To most people the obvious thing about aeroplanes was that they depend on forward motion to stay in the air. If the engines stopped or something else broke the aeroplane would fall to the ground. All the forms of transport which people had previously known simply came to a halt if the mechanism stopped working and, in most cases, repairs could be made without anyone's life or property being endangered. This fundamental difference in the nature of aeroplanes made them appear dangerous and this image of unsafety was enhanced by the apparent fragility of early aeroplanes which, in Australia up until the mid 1930s, were almost invariably made out of wood frames covered with canvas and held together with wire bracing.

People had to be convinced that aeroplanes were safe even if their engines stopped, that wings did not come off and that other parts did not break easily. These inherent and largely unavoidable problems in how aviation appeared to the public had to be overcome because it seemed obvious that people would not trust their lives or their property to aeroplanes which could not carry them safely.

The basic limit on what aviation could do was the weight of useful load that an aeroplane could carry and the cost of carrying it. An aeroplane has to expend energy to lift weight off the earth's surface and so it is not as cost effective as other forms of transport which simply push payload across the surface of the planet. On the other hand aviation offered advantages in speed of travel and the ability to bypass surface obstacles. Because of these problems and advantages there were only a limited range of things which aviation could usefully do. There was no advantage in sending bulk raw materials by air since no aeroplane could carry sufficient to justify the expense. On the other hand, by drastically reducing travel times, aviation could alleviate the problem of unemployed capital locked up in a cheque or legal documents which took a month to sail between London and Australia in the 1920s. Similarly, the delivery time of a small replacement part for a machine could dictate how long a production plant was out of operation, and again aviation might be very useful. The time saving of aviation might also attract travellers if they needed to reach their destinations quickly and if they could afford to pay the additional cost for air travel.

Publicity had to tell people how aviation might be useful and to convince them that flying was safe. There were four broad areas in which publicity occurred to make the Australian public airminded. They were publicity generated by the use of aeroplanes, publicity through the media, publicity through government action and publicity by fear. Some of this publicity was not appreciated at the time by the promoters of mainstream aviation but, combined, it created an environment of public awareness which created an airminded society.

Publicity by aeroplanes

The founders of aviation in Australia started with only their flying machines and enthusiasm. They had to make a living as well as convince people of the utility and safety of aviation but, because they had no capital backing worth noting, they were forced make money in any way that they could. Usually this meant "barnstorming" with itinerant aviators in ex-military aeroplanes (which could carry only one or two passengers) visiting any town that seemed likely to offer paying customers. 16 Aviators believed that they were publicising aviation, as well as making a living, by showing people aeroplanes and taking them for joy-rides. In the years immediately after the First World War most Australians had not seen an aeroplane and so, at first, the public interest was very high and it was not unusual for thousands of people to pay a shilling or so each to enter a local racecourse or cricket ground to see an aeroplane giving joy-rides and performing aerobatics. 17 It was not unusual for a pilot to carry up to a hundred passengers a day in this way and entertain hundreds more. 18 An aeroplane visit to a district might become an important occasion with local dignitaries welcoming an aviator at a civic reception or local residents holding a dance in the evening. 19

This kind of publicity was potentially quite dangerous because pilots had to take many risks. Many landing grounds were no more than paddocks selected by agents who often had no idea of the dangers which surrounding trees or other obstructions might present. 20 Passengers and spectators were also a hazard because they had not yet learned how to behave around aeroplanes. Several accidents were caused by crowds, and in rural Western Australia, a pilot and one of his passengers were killed in an aeroplane crash which was probably caused when the pilot was distracted by a drunk passenger. 21 Events like this reminded the public that aeroplanes were dangerous and unreliable so aviation's promoters tried to play them down. In 1923 Western Australian Airways took out a court injunction against one of its former pilots to prevent him from making statements which the company believed were detrimental to the airline's interests. 22

By about the end of 1920 joy-riding became uneconomical because all but the most remote parts of Australia had been visited by an aeroplane and almost everyone who was interested in taking a joy-ride had done so. 23 However, from the end of 1921, the Commonwealth Government subsidised a series of air routes through outback Australia. 24 These became a major focus of aviation activity in the country but they did not arouse much public interest elsewhere because they only served remote areas.

The need to deliberately publicise aviation was demonstrated in 1929 when the Commonwealth Government subsidised a weekly air service from Perth to Adelaide. Its purpose was to cut at least one week off the time taken for Australia's eastern states to receive and reply to letters from Britain which arrived by sea at Fremantle in Western Australia. 25 The service needed to carry a great deal of expensive air mail to be successful but, when it started, the response was disappointing. Consequently the Government and the operating company agreed to spend 3,000 pounds each on a publicity campaign to promote the service. 26 It was to use various forms of publicity including large posters on street hoarding, smaller posters in post-offices, calendars, stickers, information folders, notices pasted on mail boxes, the words "Use Air Mail" printed on all telegraph and cable forms, radio advertising, press publicity, standing advertising in journals and daily newspaper advertising. Another method of publicity which the company had already used was "canvassers" who personally spread word of the service to business. Three were to be employed in both Victoria and New South Wales and one each in the other states for about three months. 27 (The publicity program was cancelled when only about 600 pounds had been spent because the onset of the depression meant that neither the company nor the government had spare money for the campaign and because it seemed that no amount of publicity could encourage business to spend money which it did not have on air mail postage.) 28

In 1936 a number of large shipping companies formed a consortium which established Australian National Airways (ANA) with enough capital to modernise aviation in Australia. 29 They imported large and expensive American airliners to replace the older British designs. These new aeroplanes were all metal in construction with powerful engines and they could carry up to 14 passengers. 30 Just as impressive was the fact that they flew eighty or ninety miles an hour faster than the aeroplanes previously used on Australia's internal air routes. In comparison to the older wood and canvass aeroplanes these polished metal monoplanes looked and sounded safe. Several years later the first 21-seat Douglas DC-3 arrived in Australia and went on a good-will tour of all the state Capitals. It caused wide interest and thousands of people went to aerodromes to see it. 31

The new image of aviation was enhanced by the fact that the crews of these new airliners wore uniforms. For the first fifteen years of aviation in Australia pilots wore helmet, goggles and overalls or, if their cockpit was enclosed, street clothes. This informality was reinforced by the lack of any formal title, apart from the occasional "Pilot". Along with uniforms came insignias and marks of rank for the crews of aeroplanes who became Captains and First-Officers. 32 These maritime terms gave aviation a greater sense of seniority and authority and this new public image was adopted by other airlines as they also introduced new high performance aeroplanes. 33

Another notable innovation was the introduction of air hostesses on the larger airliners. These women, wearing smart uniforms and smiling gaily, started to be reported in the women's pages of newspapers. 34 They were seen as women having exciting and glamorous careers which girls might emulate and their routines during flight and in caring for passengers on the ground were reported in detail. 35 On the ground ANA also made another important change. At most aerodromes passenger accommodation had been minimal and spartan but, in 1938, ANA built a large passenger terminal at the hub of its operations in Melbourne. It had reception and waiting areas, writing tables and telephones, a dining room and an open air observation deck from which passengers and their friends could watch the aeroplanes come and go. 36

In 1939 ANA also appointed a publicity representative, an attractive and intelligent young woman whose job was to promote aviation by spending three or four months in each of the state capital cities giving lectures and talks to any public group which was interested. 37 She told meetings of business men about the commercial uses of aviation, she spoke to women's groups about how engines were overhauled and how they could pack clothes for a six week holiday within the thirty-five pounds luggage limit, and she talked to school children about everything because they seemed so interested in aviation. Reports of her activities and talks appeared in the women's pages of newspapers and this too contributed to the wider spread of consciousness of aviation. 38

The air lines were not the only form of aviation in Australia. From 1925 the Commonwealth Government subsidised aero clubs to create a pool of trained pilots for military and civil requirements and also help popularise aviation. 39 The clubs did this by making it possible for people who were reasonably well off to learn to fly and by providing an environment in which people who were interested in aviation could meet socially. In Sydney the aero club at Mascot aerodrome built a club house and tennis courts for members and their friends. 40 In Perth the annual Aero Club ball became a fixture on the city's social calendar and attracted many of the state's leading people. 41 Aero clubs held open days, air displays and aerial derbies which attracted a lot of public attention by bringing large crowds to aerodromes with promises of aerobatics, crazy flying, flour bomb dropping and aeroplanes races. 42

Learning to fly at an aero club could cost around 25 pounds, a considerable amount in the 1920s. 43 With the onset of the depression less people were able to afford this expense and so some sought cheaper ways of participating in aviation. Gliding became popular during the depression because it involved little cost apart from constructing a machine for about 40 pounds. 44 Because it was relatively inexpensive gliding promised to attract the working class into aviation and a number of clubs sprang up rapidly, all with plans to build their own gliders. 45 It turned out that this sort of gliding was hard work and that it was not possible to spend much time in the air so that the initial high level of enthusiasm soon waned. However clubs amalgamated and became permanent parts of Australian aviation, receiving modest government subsidies to keep active. 46

Young people were also attracted to aviation by the establishment of aero-modelling clubs. The club in Western Australia was formed with the assistance of the Aero Club and the Boy Scouts with the specific object of giving girls and boys practical experience of building and flying model aeroplanes. 47 The men central to aviation in the state hoped that people who entered aviation as youngsters through the aero-modelling club would then move on to the gliding clubs and from there to the Aero Club. 48

Children's interest in aviation was also stimulated around Christmas time. When it was still possible for an aeroplane to land close to the centre of town Father Christmas might arrive by aeroplane to the acclaim of his small admirers. 49 Toy aeroplanes and gliders were common and popular, so much so that by the end of the 1930s toy aeroplanes were the most popular mechanical toys being sold in department stores at Christmas time. 50

The airline industry, aero clubs and other aviation organizations formed the main stream of Australian aviation. Separate but also important were the adventurers such as Kingsford Smith, Lindberg, Hinkler and Amy Johnson who became popular in the mid 1920s and remained so for little over a decade. This stream of aviation activity grew out of the earlier phase of joy-riding, attracting the skilful pilots who lacked the inclination to settle down to routine air route flying or who could not find positions in the small aviation industry.

Some flights were spectacular successes which brought some aviators fame and wealth. Just as well reported in the press of the day, but now forgotten, are the failures. Aspiring record breakers were often injured or killed spectacularly, or simply disappeared. Aircraft called it "Herocide" and commented that "In war the 'Death or Glory' pilot is a national asset, in peace a national liability." 51 The journal continued

Australia has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in endeavouring to educate the community in the practical uses of commercial aviation, and yet this effort was put in jeopardy by men who attached no value to their own lives and made suicidal attempts to cross long stretches of water in unsuitable aeroplanes. 52

Those who believed that the progress of aviation would best result from providing safe and efficient air services criticised the adventurers for endangering the difficult process of making the public think that aeroplanes were something which ordinary people might use. 53 The Commonwealth Government supported this view because "public opinion is affected unfavorably as a result of tragedies caused by long overseas flights that are attempted in aircraft not designed or suitable for that purpose". 54 This is the main reason for the Commonwealth government's refusal to provide any support to Kingsford Smith and Ulm in their attempt to fly across the Pacific in the 'Southern Cross'. 55

The adventurers replied to criticism by saying that they, too, were helping to publicise aviation. Ulm replied to criticisms that a flight served no useful purpose by saying that they were the best way in which an "aviation sense" could be roused in Australia. 56 "We regard these flights as the best sort of propaganda", he said, adding that he and Kingsford Smith did not object to signing thousands of autographs because "even in this trifling way we can render a service to the cause of aviation". 57

The successes of some adventurers made it hard for their opponents to ignore or discredit them. When Hinkler visited Perth he was greeted as a hero. He made many appearances and every time he spoke he said that he was an ordinary pilot flying an ordinary light aeroplane. 58 This suggested that his flight from England to Australia was something that almost anyone could do and these statements worried those who thought that they could easily encourage more accidents and bad publicity. This resulted in an unusual occasion at one public reception where Norman Brearley, the manager of a successful air line operation, praised Hinkler as a "hero" and as a "man possessing super-human qualities" who had a record of outstanding flying achievements, simply to discredit Hinkler's own statements about how easy flying was. 59

Publicity by media

The media was the main source of support for aviation's adventurers. They were lionised in the popular press and endless column-inches were devoted to their exploits. Their photographs were printed in papers, products with their endorsements were advertised, they were heard on the radio and seen in cinema theatres.

Mainstream aviation did not offer the same level of excitement and so did not receive the same extensive press coverage under normal circumstances. The press, however, did publish a lot about aviation and only a rare issue of the daily news papers published during the 1920s and 1930s would have been without at least one item on it. Almost every aviation accident, no matter where it occurred in the world, was taken from the cable service and set in type. A report on the number of letters and passengers which an air line service carried would be overshadowed by many reports of aviation accidents. 60 Aviation's promoters said that aviation came very high on the list of newsworthy topics, ranking not far below murder and divorce. 61

Other items which appeared in the daily press that fostered airmindedness were the advertisements which connected aviation with the rest of the world. Oil companies used successes in aviation to sell oil and petrol to motorists. Much more powerful were advertisements for 'airman' shirts and 'aeroplane' jelly or lifestyle advertisements for cigarettes, cars or stockings. 62 An advertisement for cigarettes using the image of an aeroplane in the background linked aviation's sense of modernity with the act of smoking but, of course, it worked the other way as well so that those people who wanted to enhance their self esteem and image by smoking also associated aviation with that style of life.

The cinema also encouraged people to think about aviation with popular movies such as Dawn Patrol and Wings but also a long stream of now forgotten aviation movies. More subtle, and more useful to mainstream aviation, was the inclusion of aviation in other movies. At least four Fed Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies use daviation. The most obvious were Flying Down to Rio which included a large production number using aeroplanes as well as other aviation elements, and The Dancing Castles in which Fred ends up killed in a flying accident. Two others involved aeroplane flights as part of the plot. These uses of aviation meant that the millions who went to see these movies connected the glamorous lives which these people lived with aviation.

Radio also helped to publicise aviation with news bulletins, on-the-spot broadcasts, descriptions of air displays and races and interviews and talks with famous pilots. 63 Radio also helped in the publicity of the new American aeroplanes in Australia in the mid 1930s. On several occasions the crew of the aeroplane near the end of the long flight from Adelaide to Perth broadcast to the public on relay through a Perth radio station. People at home could hear what it was like to travel in a safe, high performance aeroplane through the comments of the crew and some of the passengers as the aeroplane circled over the city. 64

Radio also made the flying doctor service possible and raised public interest in aviation's usefulness. The pedal wireless transceiver made possible the long distance communications necessary to the development of the flying doctor services which had, by the end of the 1930s, six bases capable of reaching almost every part of Australia with radio communication and air travel. 65 This service did not directly effect those in more settled areas but the need to create goodwill and raise funds to support the service did involve people in those areas. Victorians did not need a flying doctor service so they raised funds for a service covering the Kimberley area of Western Australia. 66

Publicity through government action

The founders of Australian aviation convinced the Commonwealth Government to legislate to regulate aviation and provide a civil aviation administration. 67 They considered this necessary to enforce safety because, at that time, no government in Australia had any legislation which controlled the use of civil aviation. In parliament members asked the government what it was going to do to protect the lives of innocent people endangered by dangerous flying. 68 One member said that a serious aviation accident would set back progress by ten years and another that investors were not likely to provide capital for an enterprise which lacked public confidence: 69

People at present do not greatly trust aeroplanes. They may venture in them for a joy-ride, lasting fifteen or twenty minutes, but, generally speaking, they do not regard them as quite safe and dependable. We are in such a position now that if, because of lack of support, these commercial air companies should cease operations the effect may be that civil aviation may be set back possibly ten or twenty years. Once people lose capital in a venture, it is difficult to induce them to make a fresh start. 70

The Commonwealth government's Air Navigation Regulations came into force in 1921 and set minimum safety standards for aeroplanes, pilots, mechanics, aerodromes and flying practices. 71 All those pilots and mechanics who wanted to continue in aviation had to pass tests and medical examinations while all aeroplanes had to obtain a certificate of airworthiness. 72 This forced some people out of aviation but allowed those who remained to claim that their safety was guaranteed by the law. Details of the aviation regulations appeared in the press so that everyone could see them and it was not uncommon for the regulations to be discussed in the press. 73

The Commonwealth created a civil aviation administration at the same time it passed aviation legislation. The staff was organised around the three main areas of safety; pilots and flying practices, aeroplanes and aerodromes. 74 The Controller of Civil Aviation co-ordinated the administration's activities, liaised with military aviation and advised the Minister for Defence on measures that might be taken to encourage the development of civil aviation. 75

The Commonwealth decided to subsidise air routes through areas of Australia which were poorly served by other modes of transport. These services did not attract much press attention but, after 1930, the Australian government's decision to become involved in the British Imperial air mail service became a source of public interest for almost the next eight years.

Between 1930 and 1934 interest centred on negotiations between the Australian and British governments and then on the arrangements being made for the operation of the Australian section of the route between Darwin and Singapore. Would it be operated by the British airline, Imperial Airways? Would Imperial Airways amalgamate with an Australian airline? Would the existing major Australian airlines amalgamate to form an operating company to operate on the route? What would Kingsford Smith and Ulm do? 76 Of equal interest was the rearrangement of Australia's internal air services to carry the Empire air mail when it arrived at Darwin. Two government decisions generated much debate. Why did the government decide to give the contract for the West Australian route to a new company instead of the company which had operated the service for the previous thirteen years? 77 Why did the air mail route end in rural New South Wales at Cootamundra instead of terminating in Sydney? 78 When the service started in December 1934 it halved the time previously taken to send a letter between Britain and Australia. Even though the postal fee of 1/6 for an ounce letter was very high, the speed of travel encouraged business and many private people to use the service. 79

In October 1934 the British government announced that it intended linking the Empire with a fleet of large, fast flying boats which would carry all first class mails free of charge. 80 Negotiations over the details of the scheme continued between the British and Australian governments for two years. 81 This protracted and often difficult negotiation aroused controversy in Australia between those who supported the British proposal and those who believed that the Australian government's resistance to it was justified because the new service would be too slow, displace Australia from its international route to Singapore and cost too much. 82 As each point was argued the press published commentary, rumors and speculation which roused a continuing public interest. 83 The interest did not die down when the two governments agreed because then the facilities for the service had to be organised and this too presented problems of interest to the press.

These long and continuing debates which were conducted in the public gaze meant that everyone who read the newspapers could form some opinion on the administration and development of aviation in Australia. Whether or not this kind of knowledge was of any benefit in developing a public which was willing to use air transport is another thing. In 1937 the Commonwealth government attempted to gain legal power over aviation in a referendum but the vote went against it. 84 Some said that this was because the straight forward issue of aviation had been linked with a much more contentious issue which raised a large protest against both proposals. 85 Others thought that the proposal was defeated because the government had been so sure that it would pass that it had put no effort into promoting it. 86 The defeat of the proposal may show that, while some large part of the public knew about aviation, they did not know what to think about it. Curiosity about aeroplanes, excitement over Kingsford Smith's exploits and irritation at government delays in dealing with the British government's air mail proposals meant that while the Australian public was becoming airminded it had yet to developed a strong personal commitment to aviation.

Publicity by fear

As the 1930s unfolded hopes of world peace gave way to the fear of a new war as Germany commenced re-arming and Italy and Japan embarked on military adventures. By the middle of the decade re-armament was under way in most countries and the development of military air power became an important part of the public consciousness. Newspapers made comparisons between the size of various air forces and the capabilities of the military aeroplanes of different countries and many military specialists said that "the bomber will always get through". 87 The experience of the First World War had shown how vulnerable cities were to attack from the air and there seemed no way to stop or prohibit the threat of aerial bombing. 88

Fear of bombing was heightened by the experiences of Spain and China where cities were destroyed by air attacks. These attacks and their results were reported in detail in the Australian press. Although these attacks were carried out with conventional high-explosive bombs, authorities initially believed that the biggest danger from the air was gas attack. Plans were made to protect the civilian population by issuing gas masks and constructing air raid shelters. Details of air raid precautions organization and functions were discussed, films shown and meetings held. 89 Photographs of people wearing gas masks became common in newspapers. In Perth a committee was formed of people who believed that the population was not sufficiently aware of the dangers of air attack (including such notable members of the community as Professor Walter Murdoch). They chartered an aeroplane and sent it for flights over the city at high altitude, asking the public to try to see this high flying aeroplane as a reminder of what could easily happen. 90

The threat from the air was made more real for Australians by the expansion of the Royal Australian Air Force which had, for almost a decade and a half, been restricted to a handful of bases in Victoria and New South Wales. 91 An air force base was established in Western Australia to house a squadron of aeroplanes but, even as its first unit was settling in, plans were announced to station a second squadron there. 92 Air bases were planned for other parts of the country include Darwin. 93 To add to this heightened sense of danger, British officials visited Australia to recommend on the future shape of the air force and on the possible construction of military aeroplanes here. 94

By the beginning of 1939 the question appeared to be not whether there would be a war, but when it would start. Air Force officers toured the country seeking large numbers of recruits for the expanding service, new and more powerful military aeroplanes were ordered from overseas and the aero clubs were working at full capacity training pilots. 95

From commonness to ubiquity

By 1939 aviation had become a small but important part of Australian life. It brought the outback to the city and connected Australia to the centre of the Empire with three air services a week. It had taught people to look up into the skies at aeroplanes going about their business and had then told them that that business was so routine it was hardly worth noticing. More importantly, the emphasis on safety and usefulness had encouraged people to use aviation for travel, communications and recreation. Business had become used to using aviation to make the best use of its leaders and its capital. This practical application of aviation, an awareness of what it could do and a willingness to use it, was what the founders of aviation had hoped to create and what they had meant by an "airminded society".

Towards the end of the 1930s those who had founded aviation in Australia believed that they had achieved what they set out to do. A.H. Cobby, a member of the Civil Aviation Board, concluded a long review of civil aviation in Australia from 1909 to 1938 on a note of triumph:

Australia has reason to be proud of her progress in Civil Aviation and the standard of efficiency attained to date. Recent years have seen amazing advancement in the reliability and development of aircraft as a means of air transport. Coincident with this progress science is continually evolving measures to assist the aeroplane to counter the elements and so by increasing its safety factor commercial aviation continues to win adherents to its already big army of followers. All honour to Australia's heritage in Civil Aviation goes to those illustrious pioneers of aviation in this country who helped to win the airmindedness of the Australian public. 96

Cobby and other pioneers had known a world without aeroplanes. Norman Brearley had reached his twenty-first year before he saw an aeroplane in flight and so, to him and his contemporaries, aviation was not a natural part of the taken-for-granted world. 97 Part of the resistance to the everyday use of aviation may have been the same as resistance to any change, but there was also resistance because this was the first time in human history that people had been able to fly. Because flying was totally new resistance was considered a "perfectly natural" prejudice of people who could not "reconcile themselves mentally to the idea of navigating the air." 98 In 1926 the Controller of Civil Aviation thought that the solution to this obstacle lay in the future: "It may not be until the rising generation matures that the fact that the air has been opened up as a new highway will be generally accepted by the people." 99

Even though the eighteen year old young people who were learning to fly in 1939 had been born in the same year that subsidised air services were commenced in Australia, they were surrounded by and guided by people who could not help but regarded aviation as something which was still not quite natural. The new generation, however, became involved in a war in which air power played a crucial part and so they came to see the value of aviation. Instead of being a novelty, a source of vicarious adventure or the play-thing of the rich, it became vital to national survival.

The war gave many thousands of people first hand experience of aviation. When the war started in Europe the British Empire embarked on a massive scheme to train air crews and tens of thousands of young Australians were trained to fly and crew aeroplanes for the air offensive against Germany. After December 1941 many more thousands more were trained to fight in the air war against the Japanese. 100 By the time the war was concluded over 170,000 men and women had served in Australia's air forces. 101 People also gained direct experience of aviation through the aeroplane manufacturing industry which was created in Australia and which employed over forty-four thousand workers at its peak in mid 1944. 102

These numbers are, however, small in comparison to those who, during the war, were effected by aviation. Soldiers on almost every battle front became accustomed to seeing and experiencing tactical air power. They were increasingly transported by air as passengers and the practice of delivering supplies to forward areas by air increased as the number of transport aeroplanes grew to a scale which had been unimaginable in peace time. By the end of the war the Royal Australian Air Force alone had a strength of 209 transport aircraft, only about forty less than its total strength of all types of aeroplanes at the beginning of the war. 103 Australians all around the country and in service overseas became used to mounting watches against air raids, reading about them in the press, hearing about them on the radio or seeing aeroplanes and their effects in the movie theatres.

The onset of peace in 1945 made possible even greater expansion of consciousness about aviation in the public mind. Initially this occurred simply because of the ready availability of transport aeroplanes, people trained to use them and a vastly improved infrastructure including aerodromes, aviation radio and air traffic control which were all a legacy of the war. New little companies were created to use this material which also gave existing airlines a much greater capacity than they had previously had so that, for the first time, many of the less prominent regional centres around Australia started to get regular air services. 104 On the national level ANA's domination was challenged by the government owned Trans-Australian Airways which provided competition on Australia's major air routes. 105 This competition, combined with the rise of Ansett Airlines, made aviation much more available to the public.

The development of internal aviation was matched by the growth of international air travel. By 1946 the Commonwealth government had plans to spend 5 million pounds on the development of Sydney Airport alone to meet this international demand; this was two and a half times the total amount of money spent on civil aviation between 1919 and 1939. 106 The growth of international air transport was symbolised by the arrival in Australia in the 1960s of the Boeing 707 and in the 1970s of the huge Boeing 747.

Considerable public interest was also generated by the attempt to nationalise Australia's aviation industry and the following decade of debate, negotiation and controversy about Australia's aviation policy. This new round of public controversy occupied the pages of the press until at least 1957 when the Two-Airline Policy was established. 107 There were, however, two developments which really helped to make aviation available to a wide spectrum of the population and turn airmindedness into the commonplace use of air transport.

Until the mid 1950s there was usually only one class of passenger travel on Australia's airlines, first class, which almost invariably cost no less than, and generally much more than, first class surface travel. In the mid 1950s Ansett Airways started providing second class seats at reduced rates on tourist routes along Australia's eastern coast. The major airlines held back at first but eventually joined in and offered second class travel at reduced rates. 108 This made airline seats available to people who had not been able to afford them before and gave many more people the opportunity to participate in air travel personally so that those who had been made airminded by events around them and the efforts of people in the past could start to make personal use of aviation.

Equally important was the introduction of a completely new class of American aeroplane embodying all the advances in aviation technology which had taken place since the first American metal aeroplanes had arrived in Australia. The Boeing 727 in particular had a trans-continental range and a speed which reduced travel times to levels which would have been beyond the imaginations of aviation's pioneers. More importantly, these aeroplanes were extremely large by the standards of the day with the second generation Boeing 727 able to carry around 160 passengers. 109 This large capacity, along with second class travel, brought aviation even closer to ordinary people.


By about 1960 a form of airmindedness had developed in the Australian community which the founders of its aviation would have found difficult to understand. It was not the sympathetic curiosity and cautious use of the late 1930s but the unthinking assumption that aviation was something that anybody would use if they could afford it. Interstate and international passenger shipping was wiped out and passenger train services were dramatically effected. In addition new kinds of social activities had been made possible. They included a tourist industry which depended of getting customers to their destinations as cheaply and quickly as possible, large scale business, social and academic conferences which depend on the ability of delegates to travel to and from distant localities as speedily as possible, and sporting competitions such as the Australian Football League which would be impossible without the ability to fly teams of competitors and their supporters across continents in a few hours with only minimal physical effects. The idea and experience of "jet-lag" has only been made possible by an airminded society which habitually uses long range high speed commercial air transport. These changes in society were not simply made possible by aviation technology imported into Australia. They were made possible by the willingness of local airline companies to invest in expensive equipment as the result of strong public support for aviation.

This support was achieved in three stages. First came the people who introduced aviation to Australia and created a deliberate policy aimed of making the Australian public airminded. They decided which attributes aviation would have to have to gain public acceptance and they also decided which public attitudes would have to be created to support the development of the new technology. They were followed by a generation which had barely known a world without aviation, was carefully educated to believe that aviation was safe and useful and had gained a personal experience of aviation mainly through the Second World War. Third was the generation born after that war which had never known a world in which Australians had not been airminded and so took even that attitude of mind for granted. The beliefs of the present generation about aviation have, however, been shaped as a result of the beliefs and acts of the first generation. In particular, safety and usefulness are still the main values attached to aviation. 110

Sometime after the 1930s the word "airmindedness" slipped out of the language because it was no longer needed. Australians had become so airminded that to use the word would have been as useless as referring to all people as bipeds.

It seems unlikely that the kind of social processes outlined in this article have been limited to the construction of aviation. Other technologies have found their way into every-day use in a way which we hardly notice, but our attitudes to them have probably been created in the same sort of way. Contemporary Australians are car-minded, telephone-minded and TV-minded in the same way that they are airminded. People who ask how these other "mindednesses" were created might usefully show how our technologically dependent society came to be the way that it is and perhaps help in confronting the problems which are now arising as a result of these dependencies by showing their causes.


1. Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (hereafter CPD), Volume 93, 9 September 1920, p.4393.

2. West Australian (hereafter WA), 11 August 1928, p.19.

3. WA, 27 July 1929, p.17.

4. WA, 11 November 1924, p.5; Aircraft, April-May 1928, p.477 & "Aims and Objectives of Australian Air League", Australian Archives (hereafter AA), CRS A705, file 208/1/1285.

5. Aircraft, 1 June 1926, p.192.

6. WA, 24 May 1930, p.15.

7. WA, 25 January 1939, p.15.

8. "Airways Advancements - some Considerations of Policy", Qantas Empire Airways, 1935, AA, CRS A461, file F314/1/4.

9. Richard K. Smith, "The Weight Envelope: An Airplane's Fourth Dimension", Aerospace Historian, March 1986, p.31.

10. WA, 4 March 1926, p.10. Aircraft, 1 May 1926, pp.157-8.

11. R. Higham, Britain's Imperial Air Routes 1918 to 1939 (London: Orbis, 1961), pp.85-87, pp.170-181 & pp.229-233.

12. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft (London: G.T. Foulis & Co, 1983), p.1373. The idea for the 1938 scheme came before the design of any aeroplane to be used on it; Higham, op. cit., p.85.

13. Sunday Times (hereafter ST), 23 November 1919, p.13. Aircraft, 6 April 1931, p.6.

14. Aircraft, 6 April 1931, p.6.

15. When the RAAF was created in March 1921 it had 21 officers, most of whom would have been pilots. D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, 1939-1945 (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962), p.16. In comparison, 57 commercial and 3 private civil pilots licences had been issued by October 1921; Aircraft, 30 November 1921, p.117.

16. There are several accounts of these tours in the autobiographies of pioneer aviators, for example; H.C. Miller, Early Birds (1968) (Adelaide: Seal Books, 1976), pp.63-92 & Hudson Fysh, Qantas Rising (Adelaide: Seal Books, 1965), pp.105-111.

17. For example, Norman Brearley's first flight in Western Australia, Sunday Times (hereafter ST), 3 August 1919, p.1.

18. A.H. Cobby, "The History of Commercial Aviation in Australia, 1909-1931", Aircraft, 1 March 1938, p.14.

19. Western Mail, 24 August 1919, p.14 & ST, 16 May 1920, p.13.

20. For examples, Miller, op. cit., pp.88-9 & Norman Brearley, Australian Aviator (1971) (Adelaide: Seal Books, 1974), pp.56-8.

21. ST, 1 May 1921, p.8.

22. Directors' Report for Western Australian Airways Annual General Meeting, 28 August 1923, AA, CRS A705, file 192/12/448.

23. Cabinet submission by Controller of Civil Aviation, 15 June 1921, AA, CRS A1195, file 863/2/114.

24. R.K. Goodrich, The Economic Structure of Inter-State Air Transport in Australia (1921-1928), MA Thesis Melbourne University, Melbourne 1960, pp.4-5.

25. Press statement for the Minister for Defence, 2 April 1928, AA, CRS A705, file 192/16/54.

26. Letter from the Managing Director, West Australian Airways to the Minister for Defence, 8 April 1930, AA, CRS A705, file 192/16/370.

27. Letter from West Australian Airways to the Controller of Civil Aviation, 6 March 1930, AA, CRS A705, 192/16/370.

28. Letter from West Australian Airways to the Secretary, Department of Defence, 25 September 1930, AA, CRS A705, 192/16/370.

29. Cutting from Herald, 29 May 1936, AA, MP 347/1, file 182/101/2 (1).

30. Aircraft, 1 May 1936, p 11 & 1 June 1936, p.9.

31. WA, 11 November 1937, p.18 & 16 November 1937, p.20.

32. WA, 11 November 1936, p.18.

33. The MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company introduced uniforms and titles for its aircrew in October 1938 when it introduced new aircraft to its service, WA, 15 October 1938, p.22.

34. For example, WA, 22 December 1936, p.4.

35. WA, 25 November 1936, p.8.

36. Aircraft, 1 September 1938, p.7 & p.8.

37. WA, 25 August 1939, p.14.

38. WA, 25 August, 1939, p.14; 30 August 1939, p.5; 9 October 1939, p.4 & 1 November 1939, p.6.

39. Aircraft, 1 December 1925, pp.199-200.

40. Aircraft, 30 April 1927, p.11.

41. WA, 14 June 1935, p.16; 18 June 1936, p.11 & 22 June 1939, p.4.

42. For example, Aircraft, October-December 1927, pp.294-5.

43. Western Mail, 3 September 1925, p.15.

44. WA, 7 November 1930, p.19.

45. In the period from November 1930 to April 1931 at least six gliding clubs were formed in the Perth area alone: WA, 15 November 1930, p.16; 12 January 1931, p.14; 16 February 1931, p.7; 21 February 1931, p.13; 31 march 1931, p.7 & 17 April 1931, p.18.

46. WA, 7 July 1938, p.16.

47. WA, 13 June 1930, p.22.

48. WA, 14 April 1931, p.9.

49. WA, 10 December 1925, p.16 & 9 December 1926, p.16.

50. WA, 24 December 1937, p.9.

51. Aircraft, October-December 1927, p.290.

52. Ibid.

53. For example, WA, 5 September 1927, p.8.

54. Press release, 6 September 1927, AA CRS A461, B341/1/3.

55. Ward McNally, Smithy; The Kingsford Smith Story (Melbourne: Gold Star Publication, 1972), p.49.

56. WA, 11 August 1928, p.19.

57. Ibid.

58. WA, 2 April 1928, p.16.

59. WA, 6 April 1928, p.7.

60. In the week 22 to 27 October 1928 the West Australian printed nineteen items about aviation. Two were about UK aviation policy; two about long range record attempts including one aviator lost in the Atlantic Ocean; six were about accidents, two in which a total of three people were injured, three in which a total of six were killed and only one without injury; four items about airships; three about Kingsford Smith including one about his divorce; one about aviation in Western Australia and one about Australian military aviation.

61. Aircraft, 1 May 1926, p.160.

62. Oil company examples include WA, 27 December 1928, p.7; 16 August 1928, p.6 & 6 December 1929, p.12; some other examples, all from the WA are: cigarettes, 20 April 1929, p.16 & 22 September 1936, p.7; cars, 16 August 1928, p.16 & 14 November 1929, p.5; chocolates, 16 December 1929, p.20 and stockings, 7 October 1929, p.11.

63. WA, 3 April 1928, p.13; 7 October 1929, p.23 & 2 February 1932, p.12.

64. WA, 16 March 1939, p.15 & 20 March 1937, p.16.

65. J. Bilton, et al, The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia; Its Origin, Growth and Development (Sydney: Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, Federal Council, 1961), p.215.

66. Ibid, p.42.

67. The deliberate nature of these actions is shown in; E.J. Hart, "Civil Aviation in Australia, 1918-1921", Aircraft, 30 April 1927, pp.44-5 & 31 May 1927, p.80.

68. For example, CPD, Vol 94, p.5934.

69. CPD, Vol 93, 8 September 1920, p.4280 & Vol 98, 22 November 1921, p.13037.

70. CPD, Vol 98, p.13037.

71. G.A. Shearer, "The Foundation of the Department of Civil Aviation 1919-1939", MA thesis, University of Melbourne 1970, p.9.

72. Aircraft, 10 April 1921, p.174.

73. For example, Western Mail, 17 February 1921, p.16 & WA, 19 November 1929, p.16. .

74. Shearer, op. cit., p.21.

75. Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No 94, 4 November 1920, p.2037.

76. This whole episode is described in detail in John Gunn, The Defeat of Distance, Qantas 1919-1939 (St Lucia: Qld Univ. Press, 1985), pp.144-190.

77. WA, 23 April 1934, p.12.

78. For example, WA, 27 April 1934, p.18.

79. The amount of mail offering was so great that after a little over a year the weekly service had to be duplicated. Gunn, op. cit., p.281.

80. "Empire Air Mail Scheme - A Scheme for the Carriage of all First Class Empire Mails by Air on existing Empire Air Routes", AA, CP 402/1, Bundle 2.

81. L. Edmonds, "The Ultimate Imperial Air Service - The Empire Air Mail Scheme" in Tempus Aerianus; Australian Civil Aviation in 1938, Department of Aviation Historical Society, February 1988, pp.11-18.

82. Ibid, pp.18-22.

83. Hudson Fysh, Qantas at War (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1968), p.49.

84. Shearer, op. cit., p.60.

85. Ibid.

86. WA, 8 March 1937, p.14.

87. James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of Air Power (London: Robert Hale, 1986), p.159.

88. WA, 2 June 1938, p.28.

89. For example, WA, 8 June 1939, p.5 & 1 July 1939, p.21.

90. WA, 3 March 1938, p.5.

91. Gillison, op. cit., p.27.

92. WA, 10 March 1938, p.16 & 25 March 1938, p.23.

93. WA, 25 March 1939, p.23.

94. Gillison, op. cit., p.48 & p.54.

95. WA, 2 February 1939, p.6; 23 March 1939, p.20 & N. Parnell and T. Broughton, Flypast: A Record of Aviation in Australia (Canberra: Civil Aviation Authority, AGPS, 1988), p.173.

96. Aircraft, 1 March 1938, p.34.

97. Brearley, op. cit., p.3.

98. Aircraft, 1 May 1926, pp.154-5.

99. Ibid.

100. Gillison, op. cit., p.485.

101. "Australia's Air War Effort". 10th Edition, 31 August 1945, AA, CRS A5954, Box 297, p.16.

102. "Department of Aircraft Production Progress Report for August 1944", War Cabinet Agendum 453/1944, 11 September 1944, AA, CRS A2671, file 453/1944.

103. "Australian Air War Effort", 10th Edition, pp.22-4.

104. These points are shown in; A.J. Smith, East-West Eagles, the story of East-West Airlines (Cairns (Qld): Robert Broun and Associates, 1989), pp.1-17.

105. The effect of this is perhaps best demonstrated by a table showing the rise of TAA in comparison to ANA in; Goodrich, op. cit., p.133.

106. "Report of Civil Aviation ... 1939-1940", p.6. The sum of 5 million pounds which was forecast in 1946 was estimated at 7.5 million pounds in 1951; Aircraft, July 1951, p.21.

107. This period is discussed in some detail in S. Brogden, Australia's Two-Airline Policy (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1968), pp.66-147.

108. Goodrich, op. cit., pp.177-180.

109. The Boeing 727 is five times faster than, has seven times the range of, and can carry about 160 more passengers than Australia's first airline aeroplane, the Bristol Tourer. William Green, The Observer's Book of Aircraft, 1980 edition (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1980), p.56.

110. Aircraft & Aviation, August 1990, p.57 & Australian Aviation, September 1990. pp.77-8.

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